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News Releases
Food Safety Tips for those Recovering from Wildfires, Other Fire Devastation
Kathy Bernard (301) 344-4746
Neil Gaffney (202) 720-9113

WASHINGTON, June 18, 2012 - Due to the potential threat from flames like those recently caused by the High Park wildfire in Colorado and the Whitewater-Baldy Complex wildfire in New Mexico, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is issuing recommendations to minimize the likelihood of foodborne illness during the recovery or clean-up phase after a fire.

Each year, two million American homes and families experience losses from wildfires or flames sparked by accidental fires.

"Food safety is a critical public health issue, especially during times of emergency," said USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen. "A fire in the home can expose foods to toxic fumes and chemicals, making them unsafe to eat. Loss of power can also create unsafe foods. Consumers can find more information about how to be food safe after fires, power outages and other emergencies through FSIS' AskKaren.gov."

Steps to follow after a fire in your home or business

Heat from a fire, smoke fumes and chemicals used to fight fire can compromise food.

Food in cans or jars may appear to be unaffected, but if they've been close to the heat of a fire, they may no longer be safe. Heat from a fire can activate food spoilage bacteria. If a can ruptures as a result of a blaze, the food inside will be unsafe.

Toxic fumes, released from burning materials, can kill and they can also contaminate food. Any type of food stored in permeable packaging — cardboard, plastic wrap, etc. — should be thrown away. Surprisingly, food stored in refrigerators or freezers can also become contaminated by fumes. The refrigerator seal isn't airtight and fumes can get inside. If food from your refrigerator has an off-flavor or odor, throw it away.

Chemicals used to fight fires contain toxic materials and can contaminate food and cookware. The chemicals cannot be washed off of food. Foods that are exposed to firefighting chemicals should be thrown away. This includes food stored at room temperature, as well as foods stored in permeable containers like cardboard and screw-topped jars and bottles.

Canned goods and cookware exposed to chemicals can be decontaminated by washing items in a strong detergent and then dipping them in a bleach solution composed of 1 tablespoon unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water for 15 minutes.

When in doubt, throw it out!

Consumers with food safety questions can "Ask Karen," the FSIS virtual representative available 24 hours a day at www.AskKaren.gov or m.AskKaren.gov on your smartphone. Mobile Ask Karen can also be downloaded from the Android app store. Consumers can also email, chat with a live representative, or call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline directly from the app. To use these features on the app, simply choose "Contact Us" from the menu. The live chat option and the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854), are available in English and Spanish from l0 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.

Recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day. Podcasts [in English and Spanish] as well as SignFSIS video-casts in American Sign Language featuring text-captioning are available online at: www.fsis.usda.gov/news_&_events/multimedia.

CDC: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Call 1-800-CDC-INFO or 1-800-232-4636, TTY 1-888-232-6348, for information on hazards, safe clean up, and preventing illness and injury. Available in English and Spanish, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. www.cdc.gov

General Consumer Food Safety Information: www.foodsafety.gov
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Additional Information on Emergency Preparedness

Follow FSIS on Twitter at twitter.com/usdafoodsafety
Last Modified Jun 04, 2013